Make Money Caning Chairs, Selling Handmade Mushroom Art, or Peddling Cherry Pits: Successful Home Businesses

Readers share stories about their successful home businesses inspired by articles in MOTHER.
By the MOTHER EARTH NEWS editors
September/October 1983
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A reader inspired by a MOTHER article on making mushroom art, decided to go into business selling her own creations.
PHOTO: MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF


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We asked our readers to tell us about their successful home businesses that were inspired by an article they read in MOTHER, in around 500 words, being sure to mention when and where they started their venture and with how much "seed money," what they make (net), and anything else that might be of assistance to other entrepreneurs.  

Make Money Repairing Furniture and Caning Chairs

Reading about the one-person reupholstering venture run by Jan Worley featured in an earlier MOTHER article on home businesses reminded me of the furniture-covering my parents did for a living, and rekindled my own desire to work for myself. My mother also caned chairs, and as a child I learned both that skill and wicker furniture repair. After reading about Jan's entrepreneurship (and seeing other articles on home businesses in MOTHER), I decided to put my skills to work and start an enterprise of my own.

I initially invested $24 in business cards and spent about $50 on cane and other odds and ends (enough to do several chairs). In an average week, I clear $60 or more, which, though not a great deal, certainly helps our household out. Better yet, my work-at-home enterprise leaves me time to be with my three young boys!
–Sue Foster, Broken Arrow, Okla. 

Sell Handmade Mushroom Art

As an avid forager of edible mushrooms, I naturally paused, while thumbing through some old issues of MOTHER EARTH NEWS, to read Fabulous Fungus Art. It struck me that I, too, could collect "artist's fungus" while I was on my food forays, etch them with attractive designs as described by Roger Bossley in the article, and sell these "living canvases" at art shows and craft fairs.

So, on my next excursion to the woods, I searched for the appropriate flat fungi (genus Fomes), which grow on trees and fenceposts in my area. (They're characterized by hard-shelled tops and light, spore-covered, leathery undersides.) This was in the late fall, and the parasites I picked were quite dry.

I collected 15 of the most suitable mushrooms I could find and took them home. Then I drew pictures of birds and wildflowers on the undersurfaces of my "canvases" and took the creations to a local craft fair. There I easily sold the entire lot, making a $95 profit (after deducting the $10 fee for renting a space).

Encouraged by my success, I continued the enterprise, but with an added touch: I now etch my designs into the mushrooms with a blunt darning needle and paint them with watercolors, to create even more lifelike portrayals of flowers and birds.

I also expanded my marketing efforts. In addition to working at craft fairs and art shows, I have placed my paintings on consignment in several local shops, where they sell well. No wonder: People are often surprised to find that the canvases are real mushrooms, and are impressed by this unique art medium.

It usually takes me about half an hour to outline a picture with my dulled needle, and another 15 minutes to add the colors. Working diligently, I can make as many as eight of my etchings in an evening. My prices for the objects vary with the size of the mushroom and the complexity of the design. For example, I charge $5.00 for a small piece, $7.50 for a medium-sized sketch, and $ 10 for a large "portrait."

Since the cost of the watercolors used for each picture is negligible and the mushrooms themselves are virtually free, my cash outlay for this business is limited mainly to what I spend for table or space rental at fairs and shows (which is never more than $15). It's not uncommon for me to take in $100 in one day at these events, leaving me with an $85 profit!
–Nancy Pedersen, Brooklyn Park, Minn. 

Sell Cherry Pits as Bedwarmer Kits

What do you do with an 800-pound mountain of cherry pits you were "forced" to take just to have a few handfuls of those stones for making a cherrystone bed-warmer? You clean, bag, and sell the enormous pile of leftovers as "Cherry Stone Bedwarmer Fixin's," of course!

Our business of selling "toe toaster" kits began last winter when my husband Jim and I were trying to stretch our firewood supply by letting our stove go out at night. While the idea of saving both trees and money gave us a warm glow of inner satisfaction, we also suffered some mighty cold feet. So after seeing Mary A. Piccard's article Make a Cherrystone Bed-Warmer, we decided to scrounge up a supply of the fruit seeds and construct our own heat-holding sacks. We drove to a cherry processing plant that's only a few miles away from our homestead in the Northwest, and asked the people there to sell us a few pounds of the precious cherry pits. Sell they would not, but they did say they would give us the stones, as long as we took a truckful and loaded the seeds into our pickup ourselves.

Desperate as we were for warm feet, Jim and I never thought about what we would do with an entire truckload of uncleaned, pulpy, lye-smelling cherry pits, until later. We brought home our pits and dumped them in a heap by the path that leads to our cabin. Jim then set about washing, rubbing, rewashing, rerubbing, rinsing, draining, and—most difficult of all—drying about 15 pounds of the cherry stones, enough to make two dozen super-duper bedwarmers. We tested our toe toasters that night, and they did a great job of keeping the chill off.

But the following morning, as we looked at the pile of cherry pits beside the path, cold reality hit us: Somehow we had to dispose of a veritable mountain of uncleaned seeds. In fact, we didn't even need all of the 24 bedwarmers we had made the evening before. Well, Jim went into town to see if he could sell our surplus seeds. Meanwhile, I'd just sat down to write some letters to friends in far-off places, when it suddenly occurred to me that many a cold-footed person might not have ready access to cherry stones.

As soon as Jim returned, I told him we could package pits for bed-warming "kits," so we both pitched in and cleaned the remainder of the mound. Then, with $8.00 Jim had made by selling two of our ready-made bedwarmers, we purchased plastic bags and labels. We filled each sack with a pound of stones and tagged it "Cherry Stone Bed-Warmer Fixin's," made up a little display, and drove to the nearest large town to make the rounds of health food shops and co-ops.

By simply showing the store owners or managers copies of MOTHER's article on bedwarmers—which many of those folks had already read—and displaying our seed sacks, we were able to sell all 240 of the packages we had brought along, for $1.50 each. That gave us a profit of about $350 (after deducting the cost of the labels and bags and the small amount of gas we used when we went to get the stones in the first place)! Jim and I almost felt guilty about making money so easily, until we recalled how much labor we had put into cleaning the pits.

Several of the shops ordered more of our kits, but after filling those requests we still had a surfeit of seeds. So we sacked the remainder of our pits and took them with us on a trip to California, selling them along the way and bringing in enough money to raise the total income from our first shot at our newfound enterprise to $1,480.

Thanks to MOTHER, these days, life surely is one great big bowl of cherries!
–Pam Callaway, Goldendale, Wash.  


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